Russell on the mark versus the Tide

JaMarcus Russell spent his youth playing backyard football on the sandy fields of Mobile, Ala. Drawing plays in the dirt, hurrying to make that game-winning touchdown before the sun goes down, Russell learned the game of football on Alabama's gulf coast.

In high school he won every athletic award he could get his hands on, including Alabama's coveted, Mr. Football.


Russell may have grown up in Alabama, all 6-foot-6, 257 pounds of him, but today he calls Baton Rouge home. The junior signal caller plays his best football in Tiger Stadium, and if he would play all his games at home, he would likely win the Heisman Trophy.


"To me, he is one of the top three quarterbacks in the nation - if not the best," junior tailback Jacob Hester said. "Every game he is getting better and better. He is a great leader for this offense because when he is working hard it makes to rest of us want to work hard. We know that he is capable of doing whatever he puts his mind to, which is why we put all our faith in him."


Not many can say they play the way Russell has this season in Tiger Stadium. At home, he has thrown 17 touchdowns with one interception. On the road, he's struggled, throwing only four touchdowns and six interceptions. 


Russell's stats show he likes playing in Tiger Stadium, and his team tends to win when he puts up big numbers. No. 12 LSU (8-2, 4-2 SEC) is undefeated at home in 2006 and has not lost a home contest since their crushing overtime loss to Tennessee to kickoff the 2005 home-season on Monday night, 28-30.


On Saturday night against Southeastern Conference rival Alabama (6-5, 2-5 SEC), Russell had another stat fluffing afternoon when he and his squad defeated the Crimson Tide 28-14.


"He's incredible. He's the best quarterback I've faced and this team has faced all year," Alabama defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. "He makes perfect throws. He's big, he's very elusive. On film he looks slow, but he's very deceiving. He gets those long strides and he's moving."


Russell was again the star of the game, picking apart the Alabama defense for three touchdowns with no interceptions. He finished the night completing 18-of-21 passes for 207 yards, connecting with Early Doucet, Dwayne Bowe and Jacob Hester for scores. 


The junior spread the ball around the field again, and for the second week in a row showed a capability to advance the ball down the field on his legs. Russell found five different targets on the night and dashed for 36 yards on seven carries. If not for a Matt Collins sack of Russell for a loss of 17 yards, Russell's ground stats would have been more impressive with 53 yards gained.


"He is not the type of quarterback that you would expect to run, but he's done a great job this year of getting open and finding a way to scramble," Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson said. "He did that a couple times today on third down and that killed our momentum. They came out and got on us early but we just wanted to stay in there and fight hard and give our offense a chance."


Russell's first touchdown pass on the day came on the second drive when he connected with Doucet for a 30-yard score. The touchdown was one of five plays in the drive that saw the Tigers convincingly force themselves down the field 68 yards. Later in the second quarter, Russell hooked up for his second touchdown pass of the night when he completed a 19-yard strike to Bowe for the 21-7 lead.


Russell's third touchdown drive was possibly his most impressive. Beginning the second half up by a touchdown, Russell guided his offensive unit down field for nine plays until the passer connected with Hester on a dump pass that turned into a 17-yard touchdown score.


The 78-yard drive was the final dagger in the hearts of the Crimson Tide, and produced Saturday's final score of 28-14.


The star quarterbacks smile gleamed from ear to ear following Saturday's game. Russell said he enjoyed playing against former high school players and that it was fun to see their faces on the field. He also smiled when mentioning his running performance, grinning as an indicator that his running even surprised himself.


"They are keying in on the other guys (receivers), leaving 15 yards in front of me," Russell said. "So I take advantage of it…It was just instincts. When things open up that wide, when the downfield coverage is pretty good, they're giving me somewhere to run so why not do it. I'm just trying to get my team in position to make plays."

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